Preliminary forensic testing of the campfire ring -- where Hayman Fire suspect Terry Barton claims to have burned a letter -- shows no recognizable part of a letter or letter-like material, 7NEWS Investigates learned Thursday.
This is key to the case because if she didn't really burn a letter from her estranged husband, as she claims, it could mean she lit the fire to intentionally burn the forest.
Barton's sister and closest confidant, Carla Freeman, is taking care of Barton's two daughters.
Freeman says she speaks with Barton every week and Barton has explained to her in detail what happened.
Like everyone else, the family is wrestling with the fact that a woman who has worked for so long preserving the forest is now facing years in prison for destroying it.
"She is out riding, out patrolling. She said she got a piece of gum out of her purse and there's them letters that she has been carrying around all the time to keep," Freeman tell 7NEWS Investigator John Ferrugia. "So she stops. She goes to a campfire ring. She puts some rocks around it to make a better ring. And all she thinks is, 'I want to destroy them letters. I want to get rid of them.' And that's what she does. She burns the letters and she watches them go out.
"And she leaves and drives up the road, turns around and comes back down, and she sees the forest is on fire," Freeman says.
According to U.S. Forest Service investigators, it took only a few seconds in the hot, dry conditions for the fire to begin roaring through the surrounding trees.
"She was scared because the letter were out. As far as she knew, the letters were out," Freeman says.
Freeman is now the glue that is holding Barton's family together. Barton's two teenage daughters now live with Freeman in California.
The teens had an emotional meeting with their mother in jail after Barton's arrest, Freeman says.
"And she was trying to explain things to them, trying to make them understand. She just told them that she believed that she was responsible for the fire. She told them about burning their dad's letter," Freeman says.
That letter, claims her sister, was one of several notes and letters sent by John Barton in the past few months of their troubled marriage.
"He would tell her that he loved her and that he didn't want a divorce and everything. And then he would put down in there that he would give her child support if she wanted a divorce, in these letters. And then he would tell her things about how it is her fault, she has got the devil in her and things like that," Freeman says.
"The reason she kept them (letters) was just for one part about paying child support," Freeman says. "She could document it."
Barton grew up in California hills only a few miles from a U.S. Forest Service station where she worked part time after she was married.
Her sister says it gave her relief from the pressures of a marriage gone bad and a husband who drank too much.
It was in the woods that she was happiest, and Freeman says, several years later, it was her sister's dream to get a full-time job with the Forest Service in Colorado and become financially independent.
"John would make the payments on the house. He would make the payments until he started drinking again. Few years later, and then Terry was paying everything. He hasn't been making payments," Freeman says.
She says the theory that her sister started the fire and wanted to put it out to be a hero simply doesn't make sense.
"She just got on a permanent (job). She had been trying for what, all these 11 years, to get on permanent. She just got on permanent," Freeman says. "There is nothing she is going to do to jeopardize that. She was secure, finally, working all year. She was taking care of them girls. She wouldn't have to worry if she wasn't going to get any money from John."
John Barton finally left their secluded home near Lake George and Barton thought it was for good. But he returned the first week of June. Both family and friends say he refused to leave and the two of them had a violent argument.
"And then he hits the door to the bathroom -- puts a hole in the door to the bathroom," Freeman says.
The following day, her sister says, Barton decided to stay with a friend overnight after work because John Barton would not leave the house.
On Saturday, June 8, the day she ignited the fire, her family and friends say she was very upset. She had come in from the forest at midday and asked several co-workers to patrol with her in the afternoon.
"Usually when you are upset, you don't like to be by yourself because then you think of things. You think of things ... you think of your problems," Freeman says.
"Everybody was busy that day. Nobody could go with her. So went out by herself.
She was angry. She just wanted to get rid of the letters. All that's in her head is to get rid of them, 'I don't have to look at them no more.'"
As she is preparing for trial, her sister says Barton cannot talk about the loss of forest and property.
"She cries now still. She thinks about them people and their homes and she cries," Freeman says. "The people's homes that burnt down. She can't live with it. This haunts her. That's not going to be over with when the trials are over with, not for Terry. It is never going to be over for Terry no matter what happens."
Even if final testing shows no letter-like material in the fire ring, which now seems likely, that evidence is not definitive.
Defense lawyers will certainly argue that on a hot, windy day, any remnants of paper would blow away as the fire exploded into the surrounding trees.
And indeed, experts caution that traces of burned paper are cellulose, mostly indistinguishable from the wood it is made of.
But there are still other serious questions about Barton's actions and motives.
If it was an accident, why did she lie about starting the fire and then give a newspaper interview talking about how about discovering it?
And if she knew the fire was out, why did she drive up the road with her back to the campground and then return?
And finally, prosecutors will certainly make clear to a jury that Barton had applied for a job as an arson investigator with the Forest Service. That comes with the possibility of more responsibility and more money -- money she needed. They will argue that putting out a dangerous fire by herself would help her chances of being selected.
- July 4, 2002: Next Hayman Fire Worry: Flood
- July 2, 2002: Hayman Fire 100 Percent Contained
- July 1, 2002: Hayman Expected To Be Fully Contained Tuesday
- June 27, 2002: Barton Bonds Out, Released From Jail
- June 25, 2002: More Dougco, Teller County Evacuations Lifted
- June 22, 2002: 114 Homes Destroyed; Fire Now 60 Percent Contained
- June 22, 2002: Prosecutors: Barton's Husband Never Wrote Any Letter
- June 22, 2002: Van Crash Kills 4 On Wildfire Crew
- June 21, 2002: Nation's Firefighters At Highest Level Of Preparedness
- June 21, 2002: Northern Permimeter Evacuees Allowed Back Home
- June 20, 2002: Forestry Worker Pleads Innocent In Hayman Fire Case
- June 19, 2002: New Charges Filed Against Forestry Worker
- June 18, 2002: The Latest: Perry Park, Surrounding Areas Ordered To Evacuate
- June 17, 2002: More Evacuations Ordered As Hayman Grows
- June 16, 2002: Forestry Worker Arrested For Hayman Fire
- June 15, 2002: The Latest: Firefighters Gaining Upper Hand
- June 14, 2002: Fire Predicted To Reach 130,000 Acres
- June 13, 2002: The Latest: Voluntary Evacuations Eased
- June 12, 2002: The Latest: At Least 51 Homes Burned By Hayman Fire
- June 12, 2002: Fire Threatens Species, Disrupts Wildlife
- June 11, 2002: The Latest: Fire Now At 86,000 Acres
- June 10, 2002: Owens: Fire Expected To Reach 100,000 Acres
- June 9, 2002: Hayman Fire Estimated At 30,000 Acres
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